A bumper day of trade which saw more than twice as many people as normal visit Blackpool town centre has got the resort’s retailers smiling.
Early signs suggest the town is enjoying a busy Christmas period and schemes to bring in shoppers are getting tills ringing just in time.
Efforts to boost trade in the resort were welcomed but traders warned the impact is limited to the town centre.
According to Blackpool Business Improvement District (BID), Small Businesses Saturday saw a 114 per cent rise in people in the town centre after it joined forces with Blackpool Council to drop car park charges for the day.
Eileen Ormand, Blackpool BID manager, said: “That is a huge difference to the actual footfall in the town centre.
“It’s hard to say exactly what impact Small Business Saturday has because we’re in a busy Christmas period but I know the car parks did well.”
Hugh Evans, policy director at the North and West Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The feedback we are getting is that things are busy – footfall figures in general seem to be improving.
“The people we have spoken to seem to suggest it did what it was intended to do, which is not just increase footfall but also increase awareness of the town’s business sector in what is probably the most important trading period of the whole year.”
However, both warned the figures so far may not show the full story and judgement should be reserved until the monthly numbers are out.
Mr Evans said: “The only slight concern we have got is we don’t know whether the footfall has been generated by excessive discounting and how much it is because people have more money in their pockets.
“The January sales seem to have come forward and it could mean a very good Christmas but then a fairly bleak new year.”
The council and BID are also offering free parking on Thursday evenings in the run-up to Christmas on Talbot Road car park, while Houndshill is doing the same at its own car park. Ms Ormand said: “It has picked up week on week. Christmas shopping seems to have started a little later this year. I had a mix of feedback. Houndshill had a very busy day on Small Business Saturday and a lot of people were out and about in the town centre itself but the further from the town centre the less impact was felt.”
A number of shoppers said the town centre has been busy this year but suggested the free parking schemes need to be better advertised.
Levi Hargreaves, 20, of Hawthorne Grove, Carleton, said: “Blackpool does better than I expect at this time of year but what would be really nice would be a Christmas market like in Manchester.
“I think free parking is a good idea but people need to know about it.”
Ann and Allan Robinson, of Ulverston, Cumbria, said they visit the resort three or four times a year.
Mrs Robinson, 75, said: “We’ve just been getting bits and pieces for Christmas but I think it’s great - I would come here any time of year for shopping.”
Houndshill centre manager Debbs Lancelott said: “We are experiencing significant footfall for this time of year, particularly on late night Thursdays which ties in with the free parking initiative.”
Council footfall sensors showed an increase of 8,000 people – 29 per cent – on three of the busiest shopping streets – Bank Hey Street, Church Street and Topping Street – during Small Business Saturday compared to the same day last year.
Coun Fred Jackson, cabinet member for urban regeneration, said: “While the only definitive measure of the success of the campaign and the free parking offer is ultimately how businesses fared, the footfall sensors do give a positive indication the day went well and helped give trade a boost.”
But Susanne Johnson, who runs Johnson’s of Bond Street, said the free parking was too far away to make any real difference in South Shore.
She said: “I am glad somebody is doing something but lets have something in South Shore too.”